I have always found rankings articles extremely tough to write. Maybe it's just the challenges in dealing with the ebbs and flows in the criteria I value. Perhaps it's the changes in my perception as my focus shifts slightly as I enter each film-watching session. The foundation and fundamentals learned previously do not fade, but the takeaways from watching a given tape sample feel as though they vary.
The implied conviction that comes with rankings applies pressure to identify who is best... and be right about it to some degree. At the end of the day, I have to be ok with being wrong. I mean, if NFL professionals are allowed to be wrong and maintain their high-paying positions, then I can afford to be wrong somewhat.
With that said, I will provide the following warning: some of the following may seem 'hot-takie'. This is really how I feel (as of this writing) in the context of Running Back Vision for the prospects I have watched. If someone you like is missing, I probably haven't gotten to their tape... yet.
Breece Hall - #1
Build, agility, play strength, there are so many things to like about Breece Hall. His draft capital will likely be the top of the RB class based on much of the hype he has been receiving so far. While many people look for crazy elusiveness and top-end speed or burst to see explosive plays (and Hall has plenty of that too), it's the contact balance and footwork that give a little more weight to his ranking. Speed and quickness advantages that afford athletes space in college are quickly eroded in the NFL. Good feet, good pad level, and decisive, efficient movement are keys to generating additional yards at the next level and Hall has the tape to give viewers confidence in what he brings.
Dameon Pierce - #2
Ok, stop squinting your eyes. Yes, it says "Dameon Pierce" and here is why: Pierce has the top overall RBV Advanced Success Rate (ASR) in this year's class (83.2%). Calm down, this is not blind faith in the model, but this metric was especially compelling when he was absent from the top 12 of most lists out there. After watching his tape, I am firmly convinced that his lack of snaps in Florida is the reason he is one of the most underrated runners in this class. Given his performance in Outside Zone and seeing how he's doing it on tape with vision, patience, agility, and burst really has me intrigued at what he can do at the next level. The extreme success with the low usage should not get the "red flag" treatment it seems to be getting. Keep in mind that he had one of the tougher schedules per Opponent RBV (60.4%). Pierce is a hill that I am willing to die on this off-season. You guys do this every season too, right? The risk is we do not know if he can handle the load of a lead back. For dynasty players, this is no problem since he is going mid-round 3 in drafts. He is completely worth what amounts to a dart throw. Let him land in any spot of prominence and watch his stock explode.
Kenneth Walker III - #3
Walker sits here at third for a few reasons. Despite having a lower overall RBV ASR (65.1%), I have to consider how many blown blocks (21) he faced during his time at Michigan State in 2021. Given his obvious explosiveness, I have to wonder how much better he could have been. His usage in Outside Zone and Power schemes interest me, much in the same way it does for Dameon Pierce. If Walker gets behind an O-line that he can trust early, we are going to see some fireworks. His patience and explosiveness are a deadly combination to which he adds his receiving ability as a 'cherry on top'.
Brian Robinson Jr. - #4
This second tier is very tight and crowded, but right now Brian Robinson Jr. is at the top of it. There is something about Robinson's running style that I just love. With a 77.6% RBV ASR, I had to insert him here above Spiller. Middling production metrics impact his positioning in most rankings, but for me, I have to consider the toughness of his competition (Opponent RBV ASR, 62.8%). Speaking of competition, another suppressing factor in his career has been the likes of Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, and Najee Harris. I mean, what is he supposed to do to climb that roster. All that talent was concealing the talent underneath. Robinson has a nice level of exposure across schemes showing some versatility. He is not an amazing asset in the receiving game like his predecessors, but I believe it to be enough to contribute. he will lock in snaps in pass protection where he is able to utilize his play strength with good technique. His ability to channel play strength when finishing in the run game pairs so well with his burst and 1-step upfield cuts. He will be a violent problem for opponents in the winter.
Isaiah Spiller - #5
His RBV ASR was around the average at 64.7%, but it is the skills I saw on inside runs that caught my attention. Spiller has a lot of similar qualities as Walker: Explosiveness, receiving ability, and to a degree, vision. His willingness to navigate the trenches with efficient footwork and excellent change of direction are significant plusses. The ability to minimize tackling surface and opportunity has me expecting extra yards at the next level. His diversity of scheme exposure at Texas A&M gives an extra edge to his assessment. With that said. he ends up in tier 2 for two reasons. First, there are some challenges with his patience on Wide Zone runs (a common scheme in the NFL). Second, his play speed appears visibly impacted when the trenches are muddy (the next level will make these situations more frequent).
Tyler Allgeier - #6
BYU's Allgeier hits a particular soft spot for me as an evaluator, and that is the fact that he is a walk-on. Unrecruited players that rise to any level of prominence should rightfully gain our attention. Speed and power come to mind when reflecting on his RBV profile. Coming in with a higher RBV ASR than both Breece Hall and Kenneth Walker III at 75.3%, Allgeier demonstrates upside especially if he is deployed in a heavy Outside Zone scheme. He would be higher if not for limited capabilities in pass protection and baseline ability as a receiver. These limitations could cap him at a 2-down back at the next level. Expanding his capabilities could unlock production opportunities and potential wherever he lands.
Rachaad White - #7
Arizona State's Rachaad White was one of the first running backs I watched in this class and I was super excited about most of what was on tape. Some of the same things pushed him down to this area though: lack of confidence/positive evidence in blocking, and elements capping his passing game contribution. With that said, White shows some nice ability to run Inside Zone and Power schemes which really demonstrate his patience. He has good feet to make quick adjustments in the trenches, but unanticipated developments in the trenches may result in an over-response which could land him in more trouble. If White develops better risk assessments in 1-on-1 situations in the open field, fixes his concentration drops, and is utilized on wheel routes, he could very well rise to the top of this tier.
Kyren Williams - #8
Williams may be higher on many lists but between his lower overall RBV ASR (64.3%) and some of the concerning tendencies I see in his decision-making I have him down here. One thing keeping him right at the tier-break though is his receiving-game upside. Another thing that could move him up is his creativity. On runs where a blown block was charted (31 Kyren Williams runs), Williams converted it to a successful play 35.5% of the time. His playstyle is reminiscent of Austin Ekeler, but I believe he is far away from executing on the same level. Some claim he can block, but I just don't see it in the area of technique. Willingness and play strength are surely there in pass pro, but without technique, it will mean nothing at the next level. If that remains true, he could be limited to a change-of-pace back with a negative game script upside.
Zamir White - #9
College Football Champion Zamir White would definitely be higher if it wasn't for his injury history. Perhaps that is being too harsh to hold it against him this heavily given what he has shown on the field. This North/South runner with enough wiggle to be slippery is also a "hammer" when he deems it necessary. His apparent knowledge of his athletic ability is one of the things I admire about his tape the most. Often times "leaving meat on the bone" is a product of a decision in 1-on-1 situations. "Go through or around?" White shows some consistency in making the right decision. What could he do to rise on this list? Show out in the receiving drills at the combine and confirm his burst on tape with a good 10-yard split.
Abram Smith - #10
Senior Bowl stand-out Abram Smith was not giving away his shot in 2021. After a 1-year hiatus from running back to play linebacker for the Baylor Bears, the RB path in front of him was clear. Baylor surely found the perfect scheme to maximize his abilities: Wide Zone. He runs larger than his 5' 11", 221-pound frame might indicate. This is probably why I feel barely visible shades of Derrick Henry when watching him run. He is nowhere near Henry in size or talent, so don't hear what I'm not saying, but stylistically that was a player that came to mind. What he really offers is that nice combination of patience, pacing, decision-making speed, and 1-cut burst upfield whether he bounces, bangs, or bends the play. The long speed is nice, but some things holding back a better ranking include high pad level, marginal change of direction with any quickness for acute cuts, and limited evidence of blocking ability.